Every day I work with leaders who are frustrated, exhausted, or burned out due to an overdeveloped sense of responsibility. Feeling the pressure of both internal and external expectations, they try to do it all — something they were never made to do. As they slowly move away from their own gifts and values, they find themselves mired deeper in people-pleasing and critic-appeasing. This subtle form of pride and self-reliance has caused many pastors to reach out to me for help, saying, “I’m not sure how much longer I can do this.” Over the next three to six months, I will coach them to get some rest, begin to heal, and swallow a large dose of leadership humility.
Humility is not thinking less of yourself, nor is it thinking of yourself less. Humility is thinking of yourself rightly. It’s knowing yourself just as you are and living within your God-given limits. In Romans 12:3, Paul says, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” He then goes on to describe how each person should minister within their gifts and avoid trying to be something they are not. This is a hard lesson for most pastors.
Let’s be honest, pastors are surrounded by expectations, many of which are unreasonable or overwhelming. But where do they come from? Some expectations come from within the pastors themselves, and others come from the congregation. It’s a complicated mixture of misunderstanding the pastoral call, correcting perceived faults of the previous pastor, family of origin issues, and an unsustainable American work ethic and causing burnout in every field, especially in the caregiving professions, just to name a few.
In my work as a ministry coach, I gradually reintroduce these burned out pastors to themselves. Together, we work to rediscover the unique shape of this pastor’s leadership — what God has designed them to do well and what they need to hand off to others. I help them rediscover their personal energy patterns, their values, and their gifts. Then we work to clarify their priority. I tell them, “You can only pick one thing. A priority is the one thing that comes before everything else.” Jesus liked to call people to one thing. He told Martha “You are worried and distracted by many things.” Does that sound familiar pastor? Then he said, “Only one thing is necessary.” (Luke 10:40-42; also see the story of the young ruler in Mark 10 and Luke 18.)
Finding crystal clarity on what God has designed you to do gives you focus and humility in leadership. Knowing what you must say yes to, gives you freedom to say no to anything God has not called you to do. Learning to live within your unique calling makes you more productive and effective.
When this happens, pastors often tell me, “I’m excited about ministry again!”
Contact us at pirministries.org if you are a pastor in crisis who needs help finding hope and healing.
Sean Nemecek, Regional Director, PIR Ministries
Sean Nemecek is a Regional Director for Pastor-in-Residence Ministries, author of The Weary Leader’s Guide to Burnout and co-host of the Hope Renewed podcast. Sean coaches pastors through a variety of ministry issues. He also consults with churches and leadership teams. Learn more about him at seannemecek.com